Police in Russia have arrested a dissident performance artist for setting fire to some doors at Russia’s top security agency.
Images from the protest show Pyotr Pavlensky standing in front of two monumental wooden doors, their panels outlined in flame. The 31-year-old artist is a cadaverous figure, wearing a dark hoodie and holding a gasoline can.
The doors are an entrance to the Lubyanka, the Soviet-era prison and headquarters of the dreaded KGB, the secret police. It now houses the main office of the KGB’s successor agency, the FSB, or federal security service.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany and served briefly as the head of the FSB.
Pavlensky released a video of the performance, titled “The Burning Door of the Lubyanka.” In a statement, he said, “The FSB acts using a method of unending terror and holds power over 146 million people.”
The artist’s lawyer told Russia’s Interfax news agency that Pavlensky set the doors ablaze at about 1 a.m. local time Monday. He was quickly arrested, along with two journalists who were filming the stunt. The journalists were questioned and released. Pavlensky remains in jail.
Russian news agencies quoted unnamed law-enforcement sources as saying that he could be charged with petty hooliganism, a crime that carries a fine and a sentence of two weeks in jail. Pavlensky’s lawyer said that if the artist is charged with arson, he could face up to five years in prison.
Pavlensky is well-known in Russia for staging attention-getting stunts in protest of the government. In 2012, he sewed his lips shut in an action that he said was to protest the imprisonment of two members of the Pussy Riot protest band.
The following year, he stripped naked and had himself wrapped in barbed wire, then carried to the entrance of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. That, he said, was a protest against growing political oppression and repressive laws.
In 2014, he again stripped and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones in Red Square. That, he said, was to protest against the apathy and indifference of the Russian public. The case was later closed on the grounds that no law was broken.